Vintage Dinosaur Art: Dinosaurs (A Golden World Explorer Book)

Vintage Dinosaur Art

The most well-known Golden Book to feature dinosaurs is undoubtedly The Big Golden Book of Dinosaurs, also released in the guise of Dinosaurs and Other Prehistoric Animals (which was the edition I happened to review on this blog, back before some of you were born, probably). So memorable was that Zallinger-illustrated classic that Robert Bakker and Luis Rey deemed it worthy of a remake, published in 2013. Besides that, there was of course the very memorable Little Golden Book, packed with amusingly chimeric lizardy dinosaurs.

And then there was the book we’re looking at today, first published in 1972 (this is a 1973 edition) as part of the Golden World Explorer series. The cover, adorned with Rod Ruth’s glorious and instantly recognisable handiwork, certainly piques one’s interest, but how does it compare to the other Golden titles (and, indeed, Ruth’s own Album of Dinosaurs)? There’s only one way to find out…

Golden World Explorer Book cover

Unfortunately, the cover of this one turns out to be a bit of a con once we delve inside, for there’s hardly any Rod Ruth to be found. There are one or two pieces recycled from the Album, but that’s it. A shame, as that vibrant cover, swarming with different prehistoric beasties, is an excellent piece of design. What’s worse, the illustrations inside aren’t individually credited – instead, they are credited as a whole to “Hamilton Greene, Robert Korta, Rudolph F. Zallinger and others.” Boo! Credit your artists properly!

I suppose it was thought that, this being a mere kids’ dinosaur book (with some recycled illustrations to boot), it didn’t really matter. As you might imagine, I couldn’t disagree more. Why, I’d like to go back in the TARDIS and give the good people at Western Publishing Company a piece of my mind, I’ll tell you what.

Golden World Explorer Book - Brachiosaurus

Now, I must confess that while much of the art in this book looked familiar to me, I attributed that to the fact that absolutely everyone was churning out the same Burian and Zallinger-a-likes back in the day. Little did I realise that I had, in fact, featured a lot of this stuff before. But more on that in a moment. I am at least fairly confident that the above brachiosaur, with his highly lizardy appearance and seemingly enormous scales, is new to LITC (original and regenerated). As the illustrations aren’t credited, I’m not entirely sure who produced it; I initially suspected the illustrator of the Little Golden Book, William de J Rutherfoord, but his brachiosaurs were actually far more conventional-looking for the time. If you suspect you know, please do leave a comment.

Regardless, I do really like the foliage in this scene, and the impression of thick, swampy air implied by simply fading out towards the background. In spite of the animal’s oversized scales, a suitable sense of, er, scale is still provided by having it positioned next to some handy trees.

Golden World Explorer Book - sauropods

Now, if the next few illustrations (by Hamilton Greene) seem familiar from what I might start perhaps calling Vintage Vintage Dinosaur Art (if I dare), then that’s because they’ve appeared here before. Or, more precisely, they appeared in my review of 1965’s Animals of Long Ago, posted on LITC Mk 1 back in 2016. Normally, I’d give up, pour myself another glass of wine, and sob loudly at this point, but as these are better quality images than those featured back when, I thought I’d treat you to them all over again. Aren’t I lovely.

Greene’s sauropods, as featured above, obviously lean very heavily on Burian, with the animals’ poses being very similar to the Z-man’s originals, even if Brachiosaurus is now merely wading, rather than snorkeling. (Brachiosaurus has a very peculiar mouth, too, but it would be impolite to mention that.) I do appreciate the way that the wetland habit has been depicted, with skillful use of often quite minimal brushstrokes, and that earthy, murky, muddy colour palette is instantly evocative of the World Before Man.

Golden World Explorer book - Allosaurus

Greene’s Allosaurus (as seen above) blends a “more slimline, Knightian allosaur with a Zallinger colour scheme”, as I noted eight years ago. Now that I’m able to appreciate it in more detail, I’ll add that the green stripes on the animal’s skin are quite beautiful – the impression is almost given of iridescent scales glowing in the sunlight. I also appreciate the retraction of the head as the animal tears flesh from that familiar carcass, and its legs are quite well done, but its arms are suspiciously humanoid.

Golden World Explorer Book - Tyrannosaurus

Rexy, meanwhile, appears far more imposing in a higher quality scan that better replicates the rather drab colour palette of the original piece; a towering, charcoal-grey entity of pure malice, with a huge head filled with spikes borne on an impressively-muscular neck (cue entrance music). I lampooned this piece back in the day for containing so many old-school palaeoart tropes, and while it’s true that it does feature a tripod T. rex, a belching volcano and what have you, the impression is still given of a muscular, powerful animal, quite lithe when compared with the more pot-bellied, shuffling reconstructions that preceded it. I suppose that a further eight years of reviewing often quite terrible decades-old dinosaur art has made me appreciate pieces like this all the more.

Oh, and you’ll note that as of 1973 this T. rex only has two fingers per hand. It’s been fixed!

Golden World Explorer Book - Tyrannosaurus and Triceratops

Tyrannosaurus appears again in this beautifully painted scene alongside a Triceratops trio. As I said before, “the two Triceratops on the right are actually quite handsome in a Knightian sort of way”, even if the one on the left suffers from an apparent lack of 3D references. I’ll add that, now that I have a higher quality version of the image, it’s much easier to appreciate the wonderful brushwork of the artist, the stylistically muted colour palette, and the atmospheric impressionistic nature of the whole thing. Even if Rexy looks a little more cheesy and draconic than in the last image.

Golden World Explorer Book - Ankylosaurus

This illustration of two ankylosaurs is enjoyable for many of the same reasons; in fact, for the 1960s, they are exceedingly well done. As I said previously, depictions of ankylosaurs from this time often ended up “looking like squashed pineapples” with anatomy that made little sense, so it’s refreshing to see such careful thought applied to the structure of their bodies, and the use of perspective is excellent. While mostly rather drab, it’s also noteworthy that they have a patch of red skin on their throats, which is perhaps intended as a speculative display feature. Or maybe it’s just there ‘cos it looks dandy. Which it does.

Golden World Explorer Book - hadrosaurs

Much as it’s pleasant to revisit some previously featured pieces, I am nevertheless quite happy to point out that these hadrosaurs haven’t featured here before. Well, I’m almost certain that they haven’t. (They didn’t feature in my review of Animals of Long Ago, in any case.) These two are certainly throwing some interesting shapes while doing their best to look all moody and cool in their drably coloured attire, like those goth kids at the club whom you totally weren’t envious of. These almost fall into the ‘interchangeable head hadrosaurs’ category (see: Wolter Design models from the ’80s), but you’ll note that “Trachodon” has different hands and a frill running down its back (but of course). You’ve got to love them.

Golden World Explorer Book - The End of the Line

And finally…it’s The End of the Line, as represented by a slightly unusual-looking Triceratops skeleton sitting alone in a dusty, post-apocalyptic landscape (or possibly modern Montana). As authors Alice Fitch Martin and Bertha Morris Parker assert,

“The puzzle [of the dinosaurs’ extinction] is made more puzzling by the fact that some of the other reptiles, also of ancient ancestry, among them the turtles and little tuataras of New Zealand, somehow survived. Whatever the answer is, not a creature alive today is a descendant of those that once ruled the land – the dinosaurs.”

And that’s you told.

Golden World Explorer Book - Compsognathus

Oh, all right, one last thing – I couldn’t resist including this wiry, skinny little Compsognathus. LOOK AT IT! It’s like it’s made of pipe cleaners (although that would just be silly).

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  • Reply
    Niels Hazeborg
    January 8, 2024 at 5:17 pm

    You know, I do remember reading your initial review back in the day. It made me feel like a fan again! This book is cool enough to be featured again anyway, especially that Hamilton Greene stuff. It’s got that seventies grit to it.

    • Reply
      Marc Vincent
      January 8, 2024 at 6:18 pm

      This book hasn’t been featured before, but some of the art has, as it’s originally from another book.

  • Reply
    January 9, 2024 at 2:22 pm

    Great review as usual, Marc. I remember this one as a youngster and picked up a copy several years ago (also a 1973 edition).

    The Brachiosaur illustration is from a book that I also had as a kid- “Giants of the Animal World” by Ben Bova (Yes, THAT Ben Bova!). My notes attribute the art to Rutherfoord, but that may be a copying error on my part- it looks to me more like it may be Korta’s work (along with the title page Stegosaurus, which is NOT in the Bova book, but is the same style). The Bova book also has a chapter on Tyrannosaurus and segments on some prehistoric mammals, including Cave Bear, Elephants and Rhinos. [I’ve been meaning to send this and a bunch of other stuff to you, but after my move a couple of years ago all of my vintage books were put in storage and I haven’t been able to find the drive that I had scanned the material to.]

    • Reply
      Marc Vincent
      January 10, 2024 at 8:22 am

      Thanks for the comment. Sounds like that Bova book might be another one to track down.

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